Libby High School senior Paige Bothman checks her laser pointer against her palm as she walks up to the podium. The lights dim and her PowerPoint presentation about indoor air quality illuminates the first few rows of a lecture hall at the University of Montana in Missoula.
The seats are filled with Bothman’s peers from across western Montana, all of whom are presenting their research at the 9th annual Air Toxics Under the Big Sky Symposium. Bothman spent months preparing for today, and her work pays off: she would win a second-place award. Her Libby classmates Barak Lapka and Jake Reny would place first.
The Air Toxics Under the Big Sky program is backed largely by a National Institute of Health Science Education Partnership Award, which has brought environmental health sciences into rural Montana classrooms since 2005.
“Essentially what the program does is educate students about air pollution and respiratory health, and at the same time they’re learning the scientific method,” says Tony Ward, the program founder and a professor in UM’s Center for Environmental Health Sciences.
As federal funding for primary and secondary schools diminishes, and enrollment in many rural Montana districts dwindles, programs likes Air Toxics Under the Big Sky help ensure students continue to learn science that’s relevant to their communities. Continue reading